Those pesky hints!

How often have we followed a hint in someone else’s tree to see they’ve got some additional information? It’s exciting, right? The potential for new cousins, new discoveries and maybe some photos. But how do we determine if the other person’s tree is accurate? I’m always reminding my students that you have to do your own research. So in this article, I’m going to run down the search I followed to check if something in another person’s tree was correct.

My subject is one John Cullen, the eldest brother of my great-grandmother. He was born in 1871 to parents Michael Cullen and Anne Rourke. The family lived on Mayor St in the north docks of Dublin. John was not present on the family’s 1901 census, but he was there for 1911, complete with a discrepancy in his age. He’s described as a 36 year old general labourer who is single.

John Cullen was in the British Army twice – something I’ve only recently uncovered. He served from 1897-1905 and then again during World War I. He fought in the Boer War and was in Canada for a time. I need to do more research about what the Leinster Regiment was up to in this period. It was one of those service records not indexed properly on Ancestry which actually came up as a hint for his father, but there was a lot of information in that allowed me to confirm it was the right man. This consisted of:

  • Next of kin being his father Michael & brothers Michael, Francis and Patrick living on Mayor St and later his mother Ann again at the right address. These are the names of John’s brothers who lived to adulthood.
  • Parish of birth being correct
  • His age was off, but consistent with that of the 1911 census.
  • The first period of service explains why he’s absent from the family home in 1901.
  • Crucially this service record never identifies him as a married man or having children.

But what’s this? A hint linking to some other people’s family trees. One of them shows a death in 1934. 
That John Cullen died at 34 Hogan Place (south of the river) aged 63, so he has an extrapolated year of birth of 1871. He was a married van driver. A Mary Cullen from the same address registered his death. His death notice in the paper noted no children’s names but that he had a son, daughters and a daughter-in-law and grandchildren. It said he was buried in Glasnevin.

This is the part of the story where I started spending money (not counting my subscriptions to Ancestry or the Irish News Archive here). I bought the grave record in Glasnevin, extending it to see everyone in the grave. This cost €8. Let’s take a look at the occupants:

  • John Cullen died 1934, a married van man.
  • Mary Cullen died 1951, a van man’s widow. This couple had the same address.
  • Thomas Cullen also died 1951, a 50 year old married labourer.
  • Mary Cullen died 1972, spinster from south inner city
  • Annie Cullen died 2006, very elderly spinster died in a Dublin county hospital.

For three of these people, I was able to obtain death records. The Thomas Cullen death was registered by a Mrs Evelyn Cullen of the same address as the deceased. So I searched out a marriage between Thomas and Evelyn. Her having a less common first name was helpful here.

This showed Thomas’s father as John Cullen and his address in 1925 as 34 Wentworth Place in Dublin. My working theory now was that this grave consisted of parents and 3 children. I now ran a search for children called Cullen born in Dublin in the 1900-1921 period on Why?
Because in these years, the mother’s birth name is identified in the index. Although Mary, Annie and Thomas are very common names, I looked for people of those names, born in the years corresponding to their age on death to see if I could find a common mother’s surname.

I identified Mary Dunne as the mother of children born in years close to or matching the years of the people in the grave. I also identified several more children born to this couple, and it became clear that there was more than one couple called John Cullen and Mary Dunne have kids at the same time in Dublin. One of these couples married in 1908, but it was not the couple whose grave I had. How do I know this? There were 2 Cullen babies born within a month of each other at different addresses & different fathers’ occupations. The children of the right couple always had a father who was a van man. They had 5 children born on Denzille St in the early years of the 20th century. Here’s the family on the 1911 census. Note that they were married 15 years in 1911 too.

I know that my John Cullen was at home with his family on the 1911 census on Mayor St, a single man, so he’s unlikely to also be this John Cullen, a married man on Denzille St.
Further proof of this being the wrong man is when the van man’s next child was born in 1913, the family had moved to 34 Wentworth Place, the same address as Thomas Cullen got married from 1925. I’ve now conclusively linked the Denzille Place family to the death of John Cullen in 1934.

In other words, I can now ignore this hint!

Not everyone has the time, the budget or the inclination to run down a hint like this. The tree which had this info has merged my John Cullen with another man whose reported age at death was the same as my guy’s would have been. The owner has added my family’s parents and siblings in. It probably comes solely from the death index, as they don’t have this John’s wife or children. This exercise should at least show the thought process before accepting a hint, especially with a common name.

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